IT from the Ground Up

UC Merced CIO Rich Kogut’s visions and plans from the past three years will materialize as the first new University of California campus in nearly 40 years officially opens in Merced, CA on September 5.

UC-Merceds' CIO Rich Kogut

UC-Merced's Kogut: The advantage is: We have no legacy. The challenge is: We have no legacy.

You’ve been working toward the opening of the new UC Merced campus this fall. How long have you been working on this project, and what are the goals for IT? I came onboard in August 2002, so it’s been just over three years. The goals for IT are, of course, the same as any campus has: We have to support everything. But there are three cornerstone strategies we’re trying to follow in implementing IT. First, we are very much trying to use a flexible, open-standards-based infrastructure, so that we can allow freedom of choice for the services that are going to be added later. We want to be able to leverage new and emerging technologies without being locked in to any particular solution or vendor, so it’s important to create a solid and open infrastructure that we can build on. Second, we’re trying to provide service from the user perspective, avoiding silos not only in the actual function, but also based and structured around the user’s point of view. Part of that will be heavy reliance on portal technology so that users can see everything they need, via one location. We’re trying to structure our services so that students, faculty, staff, or others have as unified an interface as possible. The third cornerstone: to build in identity management and automated provisioning as a fundamental part of the IT infrastructure. We want to automate as much as we can from the start, and make it totally scalable.

You’re opening with 1,000 students and plans to scale up in coming years. What types of programs will initially be offered on this campus? Of those 1,000 students, some will be graduate students, some will be junior-year transfers, and the majority will be freshmen. On the academic side, as well as in IT, everyone is trying to take an integrated approach. In terms of academics, that means a lot of interdisciplinary work. We’re not opening with standard departments; there is no biology or Spanish department. We have three schools, and majors are intended to be higher level, with the ability to select emphases…The idea is to have as much interaction among our three schools as possible, to prepare students for the cross-disciplinary challenges of the 21st century.

Will you connect to NLR, Internet2, or other research networks? We are currently connected to CalREN (http://www.cenic.org), which, in turn, is connected to virtually everything in the world. We now have 96 strands of fiber connected to the CalREN backbone; we’ll be running multiple connections to it. We’re currently running a 1-Gig connection for basic work, but we will add a research link, as needed, that can go up to 10-Gig.

We're trying to use a flexible, open-standards-based infrastructure, so that we can allow freedom of choice for the services that are going to be added later.
What about ubiquitous wireless? Our goal is to have as close to full coverage as possible. We have wireless APs funded in all our projects. But, until we actually get all the buildings built, it will be hard to make sure we have that full coverage. So, it may take a little time, but full coverage is definitely our goal.

What are the advantages and challenges in working on technology infrastructure planning from the ground up? The advantage is: We have no legacy. The challenge is: We have no legacy. We have to put up things that will work, day one; we don’t have existing systems to fall back on. So, the challenge is to put in systems that are as close to state-of-the-art as we can get, without pushing it so far that we might put in something that d'esn’t work. And we have to build services that will scale to 25,000 students, though without the resources [yet] of a 25,000-student university.

And the main advantage of working from the ground up? We can choose the best systems—even those developed at other institutions that can’t deploy them themselves because they have different divisions and schools each running their own services. We can take the best practices and deploy them campuswide.

After the opening of your new campus in a few days, how will your focus change? We’ll continue to build out services, make them more complete, and add in new technologies. The next two interesting challenges will be unified communications—including VoIP—and digital video. We’ll move into a completely network-based communications infrastructure with new functionality, and integration of video, voice, e-mail, conferencing, directories, and data that can be passed among all sorts of wireless devices. We’re assuming that will all be happening, and in the next two or three years, we’ll see software that’s going to make it really interesting.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Rich Kogut joined UC Merced as CIO in 2002 to help build the nation's first new research university to debut in the 21st century. Kogut brings more than 35 years experience in IT to the process, including 10 years with Compagnie IBM in Paris, and long appointments at Brown (RI) and Georgetown (DC) universities.

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